1. Pretty fancy Rod having your name with such distinguished company (Rockwell, Wilkinson, etc.). Seriously, glad to see our profession continuing the effort to bring more nuclear energy to the US.

  2. An august group, indeed, Rod. I trust the assembled compose “teams” with their expertise multiplied by group dynamics. A unified front will be essential to move us forward and gain momentum.
    This may be old news to your audience, but I’ve been studying the articles from Marjorie Mazel Hecht and others at http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com. The “How to build 6,000 Nuclear Plants by 2050” and others are very informative and help place an historical context to the situation. Some things have changed since 2005 – the PBMR has slipped out of favor in South Africa – but the need hasn’t.
    Let’s hope that science and the sober reality of the need to expand energy affordability, access and reliability takes its appropriate place in policy decisions, as this president clearly claimed they would at his Inaugural.

  3. The “design with the fewest unanswered regulatory questions” would be…?
    The ABWR? Already built and in service in Japan (Kashiwazaki-Kariwa #6,#7).
    No US utility seems to be interested in the System 80+. Same goes for the AP600. The AP1000 is promising, but can the issues surrounding the shield building design be quickly resolved? It looks like South Texas Project reactors #3 and #4 would be the choice if the ABWR has the fewest unanswered questions. Vogtle #3 and #4 have been given the loan guarantees, and could be further ahead of STP in being “shovel ready”.

  4. Every letter of this type attempts to say something significant while still hoping to attract sufficient general consensus to garner a good list of supporting signatures.
    Thorium Fuel Cycle and LFTR get little mention in this letter which rather directly mentions Liquid metal-cooled, fast-spectrum technology as a focus for future development. In order for nuclear energy to play a significant role in the future of America and the world the cost (including the cost of schedule delays) of nuclear needs to be reduced. Directly driving down the cost of energy while making cheap energy available to a wider number is among the most progressive steps to improving the condition of all mankind. One of the signatories of this letter, Dr. Ralph Moir, has written a fine paper showing that (Thorium) Molten Salt Reactors generate power more cheaply than either coal or conventional LWR nuclear.
    Cost of electricity from Molten Salt Reactors (MSR), Moir, Nuclear Technology 138 93-95 (2002)

    1. Call me a skeptic when anyone throws out economic analyses for things that either have not existed or only existed in experimental stage. I find this one quote from your report to cast a lot of doubt on the validity (or applicability of the analysis) of the conclusions:
      The information in this note based on the three options as defined in 1978 does not include current safety, licensing, and environmental standards which will impact costs…
      The error bars on the capital cost and O&M numbers are likely to be large, since we have no operating experience with anything other than research-sized MSRs. What practical engineering concerns are there in operating a commercial unit? Indeed, we have seen unintended issues arise in both LWRs and LMFBRs that have increased costs. There will likely be growing pains associated with the adoption of the MSR, as there are with any complex technology. My guess will be many issues arise in the separations part of the plant.
      Add to this the fact that we have billions invested in uranium infrastructure. For better or worse, this creates a steep burden of proof upon any thorium advocate. One can argue that creating the thorium infrastructure will be less demanding than uranium was, but there will be initial costs setting up the infrastructure for the thorium economy. Can these costs be quantified? Given we have a current technology that seems to work quite well, what significant benefits justify the investment on a purely business case?

      1. I am a nuclear advocate before I am a thorium advocate and I would like to see more nuclear built even if it is not my favorite flavor. I believe that thorium fuel cycle is routinely marginalized and sidelined from serious consideration for largely non-technical reasons. I would prefer to generate more light than heat in the pronuclear community. Thorium in Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of commercial power generation and this fact has the potential to influence the development of power production in the developing nations of Asia where the majority of the growth of GHG is expected to come from in the next four decades. If perception on the relative merits of Thorium fuel cycle, even among the nuclear knowledgeable, did not matter I would not bother to argue. Sadly, Thorium is still routinely marginalized and sidelined for bad reasons and the omission of any mention of Thorium Fuel Cycle in the Obama letter requires that someone stand up and point it out.

        1. One way to encourage the use of thorium is to take opportunities with what we have now and will have in the near term. For instance, could some in situ breeding be done with an LWR and a few thorium rods loaded in on a fuel cycle?
          The HTGR that’s planned for INL is another opportunity to deploy thorium; the first commercial deployment of thorium was for the Fort St. Vrain HTGR, dispersed in TRISO microspheres. The fuel worked perfectly. (Everything else, however, did not.)

          1. A bit off topic, but what the heck – Well, actually, I think that the first commercial deployment of thorium in the US was for the first core of Indian Point unit 1, which started operations in 1962. Also, though the fuel did work quite well, so did many other parts of the system at Ft. St. Vrain. There were some well understood equipment failures on specific components, but other than those correctable issues “everything else” worked pretty well. I remain convinced that the reason there was no followup of the HTGR design was that Gulf Oil and its Royal Dutch Shell partners recognized that the system was too competitive.
            (Note: the timeline in the above is not completely accurate. Gulf General Atomics had ten orders on the books for larger versions of the Ft. St. Vrain reactor BEFORE Royal Dutch Shell invested in the company. The existence of the orders and the need for additional capital to enable completion of the orders is the reason that Gulf General Atomics went looking for partners. According to a very well placed source in GA, the order cancellations started almost immediately after the investment “closed” and had been completed by about 1975 – just one year after the investment was made. Some sources claim that Shell engineers figured out that the system design had issues that could not be corrected, so completing the plants would simply add liabilities to the balance sheet. I do not believe that explanation – why wouldn’t Shell have figured that out before investing during the due diligence phase of making a large investment?)

        2. Thorium can be gradually integrated into the fuel cycles for both light and heavy water reactors, producing near breeders with high conversion ratios. In fact, the final core of the Shippingport reactor proved that it was possible to breed in a light water thermal reactor. Heavy water reactors, with their high neutron economy, also show great potential for good utilization of the special nuclear properties of U-233/Th-232, which may be one of the reasons that the Indians have invested so much time becoming experts at employing that technology.
          As noted above, graphite moderated high temperature gas reactors also show great potential for using U-233/Th-232 fuel cycles. As we gain more familiarity with using thorium fuel cycles, we can continue working on the research and development for commercial applications of such technologies as the liquid fluoride thermal reactor. Even though the theories have been demonstrated for research projects with relatively low capacity factors and operating lives, there are still many things that need to be tested and demonstrated for long lived commercially viable systems that can actually be manufactured.
          I remain a bit concerned about the systems for on site recycling for both the LFTR and the IFR. That process seems ripe for centralization since the quantity of raw material for the process at any individual site will be quite low, but the full system would need to be installed and maintained. The only “disadvantage” for centralized recycling is that it requires a certain amount of used fuel transportation, but that is not really difficult if fuel simply cools off for 2-5 years on site before transporting it. We have also proven that accumulating a lifetime of used fuel on site – even for a very large reactor with relatively low burn-up – does not require a very large storage area. The B&W mPower system, for example, is designed from the start with enough space for 60 years worth of used fuel that can be transported in a focused effort at the very end of system life.
          Economically speaking, there are some real fiscal advantages to being able to “kick the can down the road” since delayed spending means that you get to use your available resources for something more useful now. How many of us want to pay for our children’s college tuition as soon as they are born? Even considering the effects of inflation, most of us figure that it is better to put away a little bit at a time while we continue to earn a living and actually spend the majority of our resources on more immediate requirements.
          Bottom line – the letter is about getting the country’s nuclear industry moving again. Once there are plants being completed and profitably operated, there will be an ever increasing quantity of both private and public interest and support for continued research and development. I still like to point to the computer industry as an example of what can happen when good ideas do not wait for the best ideas before actually making products that work and sell. There are some negative lessons to be learned from that industry as well about the hazards of moving too fast and ignoring some key issues like security, component life, recycling, etc.
          The key issue is to move forward, not whittle away time while continuing to make the fossil fuel guys wealthy beyond imagination and burning up valuable material that could be of use to future generations.

          1. Well said Rod, we have to move forward with one foot in front of the other. Based on my personal outreach to non-industry folks, average Americans believe that nuclear energy is a single unchanged technology (maybe we need a t-shirt that says “There is More Than One Way to Split an Atom”).
            So much education & outreach needs to be geared towards the general public about the vast new nuclear technologies before Americans can even have the conversation about liquid-cooled vs salt-cooled commercial reactors. If we expect financial and political backing from the government, we are going to have to take our case to the people as well, after all this is a democracy and public opinion matters when it comes to policy making.

          2. I believe that it was the intent of the signatories to the recent letter to President Obama to suggest that America use more nuclear power to help it reach its domestic power needs and green house gas reduction goals. Many would argue that it is more important to figure out how to jump start the nuclear industry and somewhat less important to push the Thorium vs. Uranium/Plutonium fuel cycle question. I suggest that taking the approach outlined in the recent letter to President Obama does represent an opportunity loss for Thorium Fuel cycle in that it then remains consigned to languish on the sidelines.
            The world will need at least 10 Terawatts of additional energy by the year 2050 to provide for, at some level of decency and with some level of fairness, the needs of the existing and new residents of the planet. Supplying this additional power is something that I would argue Thorium Fuel Cycle in LFTRs is better suited to do and at significantly lower cost than conventional LWR technology.
            In the long run I feel the lower waste generating characteristics of Thorium LFTR reactors will make them preferred but you can get satisfactory results with Liquid metal-cooled, fast-spectrum technology or the IFR or GE Prism while remaining tied to the conventional uranium/plutonium fuel cycle LWRs at a somewhat higher cost and with continued dependence on less abundant Uranium nuclear fuel which typically requires some degree of expensive fuel enrichment to use.
            The Thorium vs. Uranium/Plutonium fuel controversy is an old one that goes all the way back to the pioneering era of nuclear design. Nuclear pioneers Eugene Wigner and Alvin Weinberg favored development of Thorium fueled Molten Salt Reactors while Dr. Enrico Fermi (and a majority of scientists and designers then at the AEC National Labs and the Atomic Energy Commission) preferred Uranium/Plutonium technology. Today, Thorium Fuel Cycle in LFTRs is the strongest technology for power generation to safely provide the world wide need for clean power. Pushing Liquid metal-cooled, fast-spectrum technology in the letter to President Obama just represents one more large opportunity loss and holds off for another miserable decade the commercialization of Thorium Fuel Cycle in LFTR and the development of the safe and cost effective technology the developing world needs to live in abundance and peace.

          3. Rod – LFTR Reactors need to be coupled to a reprocessing unit in order to extract the Fission Products which poison the core and which would quckly halt the operation of a LFTR reactor if not removed. The efficiency of this supporting chemical plant and the salt reprocessing has a crucial influence on reactor behavior and especially on the breeding ratio. When requiring only a breeding ratio of one, it is possible to avoid continuous reprocessing and to strongly simplify the supporting chemical support reprocessing unit. By increasing the initial fissile start-up charge it is possible to design unity breeding ratio LFTRs that only require infrequent batch reprocessing once every few years instead of the continuous reprocessing proposed by Oak Ridge for their Molten Salt Breader Reactor (ORNL-3996 and ORNL-4812) which was designed to be an efficient thermal breeder. It is possible to consider simplified LFTRs that batch reprocess and have their waste products processed and removed by a moving batch reprocessing truck that moves from LFTR to LFTR in turn every month or so or alternatively at a centralized dedicated reprocessing facility.

            1. @Robert – the continual need to reprocess is one of the reasons that I have very serious doubts about the assertions of lower cost associated with LFTR. In my engineering opinion, the way to drive down costs is to simplify systems, not make them more complicated. Have you seen how both NuScale and B&W have rethought and revised the basic light water reactor to drive down the component count, reduce the need for large piping connections, and increase the length of time that the system can take care of itself without operator action in the event of a malfunction?
              Adding a reprocessing system to every plant seems to go in the opposite direction, especially when some LFTR advocates talk about building small systems. I have even seen some advocates who mentioned that LFTR could be appropriate for shipboard use, but I cannot imagine how you control a chemical reprocessing operation on a rocking and rolling platform. The chemical processing systems that I am familiar with tend to like more stability in order to produce a consistent resulting product.

              1. Rod- It is possible to design LFTRs that do not require continuous constant support from a chemical plant and can batch reprocess after long intervals ~30 years. For naval applications LFTRs of this sort may be desirable.
                Dr. Dick Engel, of ORNL, spearheaded efforts to design a version of molten salt reactor that was called the Denatured Molten Salt Reactor(DMSR) that had virtues of somewhat lower proliferation risk over pure Thorium fuel cycle breeders like the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor (MSBR). The DMSR reactor, described in ORNL report TM-6413, permitted a simplified supporting chemical plant which might make it more suitable for naval applications. Even these special Molten Salt Reactors typically do include some chemical processing capabilities like an off-gas system for gaseous fission products like Xe-135 that, if permitted to build up in the reactor, would eventually stop the reactor. The DMSR represents a technology that is directly buildable with current American industrial infrastructure in the year 2010. The technology required to build it exists now, thus developers would not be saddled with huge R&D costs, and would not have the technological uncertainties that would confront full LFTR development. The DMSR could represent a transition, between the traditional solid fuel reactors, and future more long term sustainable LFTR technology.
                LFTR supporting plants are notable in their moderate cost to perform their reprocessing function. The Molten Salt Breeder Reactor (MSBR) included a full function supporting chemical plant to achieve high breeding efficiency and a low initial fissile inventory. The following data taken from the summary of ORNL-3996 shows the relative cost of the Fuel Recycle Plant to the cost of the Reactor Power Plant:
                Reactor Power Plant – estimated total plant cost of $114.4 million private-financing in 1966 dollars
                Fuel-Recycle Plant – estimated total plant cost of $5.3 million in 1966 dollars
                So the Fuel Recycle Plant only added about 4.5% to the cost of the MSBR reactor. It may be noted that the $5.3 million in cost for the Fuel Recycle Plant also included the cost of the Fuel Recycle Plant building and the land the Fuel Recycle Plant stood on. This contrasts with the cost to build a Purex or Purex+ recycling facility to support conventional solid fuel rod LWR technology where the cost of the recycling facility frequently is many multiple times the cost of a LWR.

      2. The US cannot currently build LWRs that it pioneered at the dawn of the nuclear age in commercial sizes without help from foreign industrial nations. Large forgings like Reactor containment vessels on the order of ~600 tons are beyond the industrial infrastructure that currently exists in USA. The queue to obtain heavy commercial forgings from Japan Steel is substantial and will limit the rate at which the US nuclear renaissance based on LWR technology can happen. Japan Steel currently can build a total of about 4 LWR reactor vessels per year in their facility for all domestic and international customers. Areva Newport News hopes to make heavy forgings eventually but it is not clear at this time whether the facility will be able to make modern commercial forgings (~600 ton) for current NRC certified commercial reactor designs.
        LFTR does not require heavy forgings to be safe (everything in the primary loop operates at near atmospheric pressure). LFTRs require substantially less cement and steel to construct for a given power output rating (<

        1. Pixie dust does not require heavy forgings to be safe (everything in the primary loop operates at near atmospheric pressure). Pixie dust facilities require substantially less cement and steel to construct for a given power output rating (< 1/2 the cement and steel per MW output, according to the pixies). This dust could be used in America today without foreign industrial help given current US industrial infrastructure and helpful elves, who will ensure that everything goes smoothly whatever the cost, just ask the shoemaker. (Of course, these will be American elves, properly unionized.) Manufacture of pixie dust in the USA could be practically scaled to permit pixie dust to replace the electricity produced from all US coal fired power plants in less than a decade.
          What does pixie dust have to do with the “LFTR”? Neither one has contributed the first kWh to the electrical grid.
          I get so tired of such ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims from nuclear “fan boys.” Is anybody else sick of hearing this stuff?

          1. Dr. Ra;ph Moir is not a “pixie” at least in my estimation. While the lion

            1. “America is coasting on technology that was pioneered by the US Navy in the early 1950s and little more than small, but significant, evolutionary improvements have occurred since then.”
              Sorry, but you are a fool if you think that work done since “the early 1950s” on light water reactors has been “small.” The amount of test data alone for these designs, which has been collected over decades by many countries, is quite substantial. This huge amount of test data is the most glaring hole in your claims of having a superior technology.
              Your LFTR might be superior, but we have no way of positively knowing that yet.
              Meanwhile, the LWR is the most successful design of all of the designs put forward in “the early 1950s,” including molten salt designs. America is not “coasting” on this technology; today American politicians are hardly willing to acknowledge that it exists. If anyone is “coasting,” it is the countries in Europe and Asia who are continuing to develop, build, and capitalize on this design.
              “We really can do better. In my original post I reported Dr. Moir’s pinion [sic] that in his estimation Molten Salt Reactors can generate power ore cheaply than coal and conventional nuclear and I provided a alculation [sic] (of Ralph’s) to prove it. This is an important result for anyone how cares about the future of nuclear power generation.”
              You provided nothing more than a five-page Op-Ed piece. There is no rigor there, just one guy’s opinion.
              This is nothing to base a country’s energy policy on!
              Meanwhile, I have read hundreds and hundreds of pages on the technical and economic challenges of several different novel reactor designs. These studies begin with the hard technical challenges, then move on to various engineering tradeoffs to optimize the economics, then evolve to redesigns — often significantly backing off from initial, optimistic (overly marketed) claims — then to somewhat pessimistic, but candid, assessments of the technology.
              Needless to say, this requires more than five pages to accurately and honestly capture.
              So when you claim that the “manufacture of LFTRs in the USA could be practically scaled to permit LFTRs to replace the electricity produced from all US coal fired power plants in less than a decade,” I have to laugh and mock you a bit.
              That’s the pixie dust talking.
              “(How much real commercial power generation has come from the Liquid metal-cooled, fast-spectrum technology called out as a focus for future development in the letter to President Obama)?”
              Well, if the letter to President Obama had actually focused exclusively on that one technology, then you might have a point. However, I think that if you were to carefully reread the letter (instead of issuing a knee-jerk reaction to it) you would realize that the letter merely pointed out that this technology had been successful in breeding new fuel — something that the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment did not do.

              1. I have to second Brian’s comment. There have been an impressive number of technical developments associated with light water reactors. Sure, the basics are the same, but the specifics have undergone a hard won evolution into a very reliable and safe power generation source. Many of the questions that worried people like Weinberg have been answered or proven to be of less concern than he thought.
                Dr. Ralph Moir might be a very smart fellow, but he has something in common with LFTR’s – he has not produced any commercially useful electricity or propulsion power during his long professional career. According to his bio, he spent most of his career researching another form of pixie dust called “fusion”, which is the energy of the future and always will be.
                There may very well be “better” ways to produce power than light water reactors. However, I do not think that it is worth the billions that will be needed to be invested in research and development and the delay time that would be required to get there at this point in time. Our money would better be INVESTED (not spent) by building a large number of fission power plants using proven technology that has a supply chain and a training establishment already in place. When those new plants are up and running and producing income – perhaps there will be some resources available for developing the next big thing.

              2. Brian- No commercial light water reactors started in the last 30 years is an example of the United States “coasting’ on the LWR technology pioneered by the US Navy in the mid 1950s in my humble opinion.
                No US domestic industrial capacity to build the reactor containment vessels required to safely build modern commercial NRC certified LWR designs is “coasting” IMHO.
                The MSRE did not have a breeding blanket but did breed U-233 fuel. ORNL currently has approximately 1000 kilograms of U-233 in storage that resulted from operation of MSRE although, in a stroke of technocrat genius, this rare and valuable material (U-233) ideal for starting Thorium reactors in pure Thorium fuel cycle is scheduled for immanent destruction under orders to reduce inventory of strategic materials to reduce the possibility of loss through potential terrorism on DOE Labs.
                The calculation showing that MSRs can produce energy cheaper than coal or conventional nuclear is an honest one. The length of the calculation is less relevant than the integrity of the engineer doing the calculation and the quality of the proof provided. The calculation was made by one of LLNL

  5. Pete,
    Lungmen in Taiwan is an ABWR . The project was a disaster. Over budget. Beyond schedule. And ABWR I&C SQA doesn’t comply with the current Reg Guides (1.152 and 1.168 thru 1.172). The best bet for a new BWR in the US is ESBWR which is the closest in getting approval right now, even beyond Areva and Westinghouse. The problem is GE-Hitachi’s commitment. Jeff Immelt would rather sell wind mills than nukes. It’s just the way it is.
    BTW, South Texas – ABWR by Toshiba Westinghouse – didn’t get the DOE loan guarruntee. So STP has laid off its contractors. Too bad GE sold ABWR rights to Toshiba who then bought GE’s competitor Westinghouse. So few people know history any longer.
    AND Areva was told that its prioritization module for safety to non-safety communications in its I&C design was a no-go. They were told that 3 years ago, but Siemens got arrogant and said, “It vill vork – ja! – it vill vork!” Nope – it won’t work in the US. Nein, nein, nein!
    Nobody understands that digital I&C SQA and Cyber Security will be 80% of the work for a new nuke. NOT pouring concrete. So Areva is a no go. ABWR is a no go. I hold no hope for AP1000. Only ESBWR could do it except for Jeff Immelt and GE’s reluctance to take a risk. Sad. Very sad.

  6. It is fantastic to see a cohesive and united front for nuclear! We are all fighting for same thing, which is more nuclear energy. Sometimes we get bogged down in the details and methodologies and forget the big picture of what we all have in common- and this letter is a beautiful expression of how much we can achieve from working together. Bravo!

  7. The failure to mention Molten Salt Reactor technology is most disappointing. IFR backers have much more in common with LFTR backers than we have areas of disagreement, Yet they seem to believe that working together with us towards common goals is not worth their while.

    1. Why not VHTGRs or lead-cooled reactors? Everyone has a favorite technology. You cannot include them all.
      As Rod said, first priority is getting the nuclear industry started. How many commercial MSRs exist or have existed? Zero. While we need a lot more experience operating an LMFBR, at least there are some of those in operation. It is possible to make a stronger business case for an LMFBR than a commercially untested MSR.
      We can argue benefits of MSRs and other advanced concepts all day. In the end, these discussions are purely academic until we have a revitalized nuclear industry,

  8. Guest- Thanks. That is all really depressing. The NRC says the ABWR is certified.
    Are they going to un-certify it when the specifics of the digital I&C get incorporated into the plant? Did the NRC not review their own Reg Guides before approving the ABWR? Or did the Reg Guides change since certification, so the digital I&C is de-facto out of compliance even before it is built? I seem to remember the Finnish EPR having big problems with its digital I&C design, too.
    I agree with Brian. All of this talk about LFTRs and Thorium is fine, but the next plants to be licensed will be uranium LWRs. The first item on the list is to get some plants in construction.

  9. I&C is difficult, but not insurmountable. Several plants such as Oconee have converted to digital. AP1000 certification will likely be resolved as well.

  10. So, just curious..
    With the odd omission of thorium and LFTRs in this letter, why don’t you modify the letter to be inclusive of this technology? Who would object?
    By all means don’t take out LFMBRs but add thorium in the same sentence.
    Would lend much more credence and give the president further information and choice (and political ammo, given the general unease over the plutonium cycle.)

    1. I like the way you think, Ed. Thorium, in Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors deserves mention.
      (The Thorium guys will gripe if you leave them out).

      1. Hi Robert,
        LFTR remains my favorite technology but I have to agree with Brian on this. No electricity produced so far. Big development costs / investments are needed, especially when you consider getting through the design through the NRC. When Hyperion has to change designs to make a business case to the NRC, LFTR is practically out for the near future. I don’t like that but it is reality. At the same time most of the features that make LFTR attractive are possible with small scale Light Water Reactors. Impressively so.
        I think the real market for LFTRs is load following. Replacing the 20% of the market that is currently handled by dangerous methane burning turbines. If they can be built small, let’s build a small one for demonstration to the NRC at a state university somewhere.
        In the mean time, I have to say that many of my concerns about LWR’s have been answered and my comfort level continues to rise. As I have understood that Uranium is far more abundant than I understood and has a reasonable chance of recovery from sea water the whole cycle starts to make more and more sense to me. Find a hole and bury the waste. Or, better yet by far, recover those valuable valuable precious metals and gases with reprocessing.

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